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Our Opinion (Editorial)
No San Antonio but hope left for Big Wow

Opinion reprinted from Red Deer Express (Johnnie Bachusky) November 19, 2008
It was no surprise last week for anyone in the know the city wanted no part of a world-class canal concept for the Riverlands.

In fact, it was one of the worst kept secrets in Red Deer history.

But when project consultant Lorne Daniel said with a straight face that public feedback indicated citizens didn't want a "transplanted" idea from another city, like the world-famous River Walk in San Antonio, one has to wonder if that was some sort of joke thrown in to break the serious tone of the media conference.

After all, the city is moving forward with an idea for the Riverlands that is very much transplanted from another urban centre -- the vision of B.C. urban planner Michael von Hausen.

But most seriously folks, how the city got to this point while rejecting the canal concept is quite interesting.

Since last June, when the first of two open houses was held, the city was already beginning to lose interest in the full-fledged canal idea.

It was sold on the von Hausen plan, which will feature waterways on a lesser scale than what the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce's tourism committee envisioned when unveiling the San Antonio-inspired idea 14 months ago.

Von Hausen's concept came as the River Walk Committee, which was running parallel to the Greater Downtown Action Plan Committee, was looking into the full-fledged canal concept and was discovering that while it was doable there would be considerable private land ownership challenges and accompanying exorbitant costs.

But equally important for nervous city officials was that von Hausen's concept was the answer to a few, and I do mean few, complaints from a tiny but loud group of citizens who insisted a canal system might be harmful to the environment, and from the equally few but influential citizens of the old school of thinking that Red Deer must stick to its traditional conservative way of thinking and not think too extravagantly -- lest the liberals take over.

To prove the von Hausen concept was instantly the city's preference for the Riverlands, no substantial changes were made for the second open house in October.

While some citizens in the community considered the full-fledged canal concept folly of the highest order, Ken Mandrusiak and Jack Donald, two key players on the Chamber's tourism committee, insisted it was the right choice for Red Deer to become a major player in the province's tourism industry.

Strangely, however, both men voiced excitement and approval for the von Hausen plan last June but did a complete about face when the B.C. planner's concept was once again presented with few changes at the second open house last month.

They argued the von Hausen concept, which includes an undefined signature structure called The Ark, was not a "Big Wow" and that it would do little if anything to boost tourism in Red Deer's economy.

"What they are proposing there is just a big building with a skylight in it. That is not a 'Wow' to me. You are not going to bring people from half way around the world," said Mandrusiak.

Mandrusiak said he is not done in his quest to push the big canal idea through.

He still insists the San Antonio-inspired concept has considerable support within the business community and plans on surveying the 800 or more Chamber members to prove his point.

But time is working against him.

The city is moving ahead in earnest on the von Hausen plan and council is expected to adopt it in January.

"For us there is a sense of urgency," said Mandrusiak. "There is more than one way to create a 'Wow' but we have already gone through that exercise. We had a study and probably looked at 20 ideas that could have been wows. This one kept coming to the surface."

But what the entire exercise does prove is that ideas and dreams can change in a heart beat.

In 2007 few predicted the U.S. economy would create the global disaster we are seeing now, and which is now striking at Alberta.

At this stage, the public input process is done. And while the results are hardly scientifically conclusive, the naysayers have won the day.

But while the von Hausen concept has flaws in its attempts to create a serious tourism industry in the city and region -- notably the mixed housing component -- it is at least a start.

The San Antonio vision may be close to being buried but there is still hope there can be a Riverlands' Big Wow.

And Mandrusiak and Donald can still be part of this ongoing discussion.

Their voices will still be urgently needed to ensure the now San Antonio-less Riverlands' Big Wow doesn't morph into just another nice neighbourhood.

Too much time, energy and heart has already been spent. To throw that away would be a waste.

News articles related to historic downtown Red Deer redevelopment
(the original vision of the Forth Junction Heritage Society included an attraction in the new downtown
Riverlands but this vision was modified to have one destination close to the city and active rail line):

       Commentary: The Greater Downtown Action Plan progress and potential (Red Deer Express May 2013)
       News article: Riverlands development ready for debate
(Red Deer Advocate Sep.2011)
       News article: Railyards: Open house on a 20-year plan for downtown
(Red Deer Advocate June 2011)
       News article: Riverlands: Strong turnout for open house
(Red Deer Advocate March 2011)
       Commentary: Red Deer could use more bold visionary landmark designers
(Red Deer Express Sep.2010)
       News article: Paths to change (Rotary Recreation Park) (Red Deer Advocate Aug.2010)
       Editorial: Time for downtown vision
(Red Deer Advocate July 2010)
       News article: Big expectations for downtown Red Deer (Red Deer Advocate June 2009)
       News article: Chance of a lifetime (Red Deer Advocate Jan.2009)
       News article: Canal plan jettisoned (Red Deer Express Nov.2008)
       News article: Red Deer - Alberta's next great city (Red Deer Express July 2008)

Downtown Red Deer Ground Transportation Themes

Michael Dawe articles related to railway heritage of downtown Red Deer:
       Looking back to when Red Deer landed city status (Red Deer Express March 2013)
       Prosperous times for New Year's, 1912 in Red Deer
(Red Deer Express Dec.2011)
       An early community landmark - the Michener Fountain (Red Deer Express June 2011)
       Lots of street name debate in City's history (Red Deer Express Sep.2010)
       Region celebrating century of railroad heritage (Red Deer Express March 2010)
       CPR Station Park once shining jewel of Red Deer (Red Deer Express June 2009)
Canadian Pacific Railway Bridge now 100 years old (Red Deer Advocate June 2009) 
       Red Deer's downtown hotels have celebrated history
(Red Deer Express June 2009)
       The history of Red Deer's CPR station
(Red Deer Express April 2007)
       Red Deer becomes a divisional point for CPR
(Red Deer Advocate Special March 2007)


 News articles about the Forth Junction Heritage Society:
World-class destination centre still in the works 11/13       Praise today's big dream 01/12       Forth Junction targets county 12/11 
Forth Junction pulling toward a new station
12/11        A volunteer on the right track 12/10        Tourism board supports rail project 10/10
Forth Junction rail project seeking charitable status
10/10        Rail tourist attraction idea gets rolling 07/10        Railway heritage 06/10
New idea for Riverlands worth an Olympic cheer 02/10       Happy to hear more talk on large-scale attractions 02/10
One-time opportunity 02/10       Tourism proposal facing obstacles 02/10       World-class attraction proposed for Riverlands 02/10

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